Here are factors and others experiences to consider

December 2014 Features — 03 December 2014

Photo courtesy of Justin Lampert, National Armory

Photo courtesy of Justin Lampert, National Armory

Reloading has been popular with serious shooters for a long time. In the past few years, however, a few shooting ranges have started doing their own reloading to provide quality ammo at a competitive cost for their customers.

Justin Lampert is vice president of National Armory in Pompano Beach, Florida. He said reloading has become a large part of National Armory’s business.

“We sell at gun shows, and we also supply a couple of other gun ranges in the area,” he said. “We recycle all our brass, and we buy brass from outside sources as well. We load just about everything police departments shoot, so we buy a lot of police brass.”

Lampert said the range uses Dillon 1050 commercial-grade reloading machines.

“We use vibratory tumblers to clean our rounds, and do all our case processing in house,” he said.

The range recently has ordered additional equipment that will allow employees who do the reloading to manufacture their own lead-free ammunition.

“Everything will be lead free, even the primer,” Lampert said. “It functions flawlessly in every gun we’ve tried it in. The bullets are a little lighter, so it will be more like a frangible bullet, but they’re still more in the price range of normal ammunition instead of the higher price of frangible ammunition. The bullets all will be machine turned, so they’ll be match-grade rounds at the price of regular ammunition.”

The vast majority of what National Armory reloads, Lampert said, is target loads.

“We do a little defensive ammunition,” he said. “We also do some custom loading and a few match-grade rounds.”

One reason National Armory started reloading, Lampert said, was simply to take advantage of all the brass they had available.

“Brass is one of the most expensive parts of ammunition,” he said. “By using the brass we have, we can cut the cost. We’re still paying for gunpowder, bullets heads and primers, and we’re paying someone to load. But we’ve cut the cost down tremendously versus buying regular ammunition.”

One additional cost of reloading, Lampert said, is insurance.

“We have a $2 million insurance policy on our ammunition, which really isn’t that expensive,” he said. “Our insurance policy for the store, the extra insurance on our ammunition, and everything else is around $25,000 per year. That also covers our inventory and everything else in the store.”

Lampert said they arranged their insurance through the National Rifle Association; the policy is with Lockton Affinity in Overland Park, Kansas.

The biggest hurdle the range faced with adding reloading, Lampert said, was finding someone who understands reloading and can run the equipment.

“The automated machines we use increase production and make a higher-end product,” he said. “They also get rid of errors. The biggest issue is having someone who knows how to load properly. An average person who’s good at loading should be able to run 800 to 1,000 rounds an hour on a Dillon machine.”

Even small ranges can run a reloading operation, Lampert said, although they may have a bit of a learning curve with the automated equipment.

Other pieces of equipment may come into play.

“We started out getting our labels printed,” Lampert said, “but it ended up being less expensive to buy a label printer.”

One big thing ranges need to remember when reloading ammunition for sale, Lampert said, is to factor in the required federal excise tax (FET).

“You pay it quarterly,” he said. “When we do Groupon offers, the feds say we don’t have to pay FET tax because it’s a package deal; the customer isn’t buying the ammo specifically. But you have to make sure you pay the FET tax on any ammo you produce that’s sold as just ammunition.”

You’ll also need a Class VI FFL.

“A Class VI FFL is very inexpensive,” Lampert said. “It’s $500 initially, and the renewal on it is $250 per year.”

Other issues ranges need to look at include proper storage of gunpowder and being able to purchase the kinds and amounts of powder and primers that you need for specific loads.

National Armory’s reloaded ammo is boxed and ready to go
Photo courtesy of Justin Lampert, National Armory

Lampert said reloading ammunition has been a windfall for National Armory’s bottom line.

“The profit margins we’re making off reloaded ammunition are a lot larger than what we’re making off other ammunition,” he said. “We’re working at about a 50 percent margin instead of a 30 percent margin. And, reloading your own ammunition gives you a good name, because people get to know your ammunition and it gets out to other places. Selling your own ammunition gets your name out there and helps keep you in business because it brings a whole new group of customers into the store.”

Daniel Kash is president of LAX firing range in Inglewood, California. The process at LAX firing range is similar to how National Armory reloads its ammo.

“We have a loading area with automated reloading machines,” he said. “We can load about 3,500 rounds an hour, depending on the caliber and the type of casings. We manufacture 9mm, .40, .45, .38 and .380; we do pretty much all the pistol calibers. We do .223 and .308 in rifle calibers. We also do a few of the larger pistol calibers such as .45 long Colt, .44 Magnum, .44 Special and .357 Magnum.”

Kash said his operation doesn’t have to do any cleaning of cases because when they arrive they’re already cleaned and ready to load.

“Once we load the rounds, we sell them here at our shooting range, as well as at a couple of other local ranges and some that aren’t so local,” he said. “We also sell ammo online and take it to gun shows.”

Initially, Kash said, he didn’t want to get into the ammunition business, but a friend of his convinced him to do it.

“He had a shop, and he wanted to get out of the business,” he said. “He wanted to sell me all his equipment. I told him I needed another business like I needed a hole in my head.”

Kash’s friend sold the business to his landlord, and eventually Kash bought the equipment from him.

“It ended up being the best decision I’ve made in a long time,” he said. “The timing was right, and it’s expanded our business 100 fold. It’s propelled us to something I could never have imagined.”

Kash said his insurance cost is more than what National Armory pays.

“Our insurance is between $60,000 and $70,000 a year,” he said. “That covers the liabilities of producing a product that could injure a customer. But for the amount that reload we have very, very few issues. We’ve done an excellent job of being sure that the product customers get is something they want to keep coming back for.”

One of the big benefits of reloading ammunition, Kash said, has been the increase in his business.

“We’re in a brand-new building that’s 20,000 square feet,” he said. “It’s a state-of-the-art building that’s the most up-to-date place that I know of. Being able to have something like that in Southern California that’s not the friendliest gun state that there is—we take pride in that.”

The equipment cost for getting into reloading can vary considerably, depending on what you want to do. The Dillon 1050 commercial machine that Lampert uses runs around $1,700 for the base unit. A caliber conversion kit adds about $120 to that, and a bullet tray is $42.

If you’re planning to do small batches of custom ammunition for specific calibers or customers, you can use equipment that’s more geared to the individual reloader. Robin Sharpless, executive vice president of Redding Reloading Equipment, said the cost of either kind of equipment becomes a function of the number of calibers you want to custom load.

“After you buy the base equipment, you then have to buy the dies and shell holders for each caliber that you’re going to reload,” he said. “If you’re going to use our equipment, I’d recommend a turret press such as our T-7, which would cost a dealer about $240.”

Instead of purchasing all the other pieces of gear individually, Sharpless said, he would recommend getting a Versa Pak Pro Kit.

“The Versa Pak Pro Kit has literally all the other stuff that you’ll need, including a case trimmer and powder measure,” he said. “Since it’s the ‘Pro’ kit, it has the better trimmer with the micrometer on the end and the benchrest powder measure. When you buy it in the Versa pack, you save 11 to 12 percent over buying all those items individually. It has the scale, the funnel, the case lube and the case preparation tools; it has all the little things that you need. You’re looking at under $400 for that. So without caliber-specific dies and shell holders, you’re under about $650.”

Basic dye sets, he said, run around $40 at the dealer price; handgun dies run around $70, with the shell holder.

Not every range using reloaded or remanufactured ammunition is producing what they use; some ranges are reaching out to other companies that are reloading.

“During tough times for ammo, we have leveraged brass for loaded ammo rather than cash,” said Ed Santos, owner of Center Target Sports in Post Falls, Idaho. “During the ammo crunch, I was getting 25,000 rounds of 9mm for every three barrels of spent brass rather than get paid for the brass. Almost every range that I’ve been in around the country in the past few months has some form of ‘range brand’ remanufactured ammo.”

Over the past few years, however, Santos said, some regular ammunition has become less expensive than reloaded or remanufactured ammo.

“That has shifted things,” he said. “Now the availability and the cost of the common centerfire calibers has not made it worth the cost for a lot of ranges to get into loading their own or expanding their involvement with a remanufacturer.”

When it comes to reloading, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for ranges. Depending on your location and your clientele, reloading the brass your customers leave behind may create a windfall for your range, or may be financially impractical. Given the profits that National Amory and LAX Firing Range have found in reloading, however, it’s an option worth exploring.

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